DSS aims to create a 'welcoming place'

Social Services Today
Jun. 07, 2014 @ 12:21 PM

This is the third in my six-part monthly series highlighting the Six Principles of Partnership, which guide the work of Durham County Social Services.  The principle of partnership --"Judgments Can Wait" -- is a central tenet guiding DSS employees in their everyday encounters with one another and our clients.

This principle recognizes that a person makes a judgment about a person, an object or a situation; people have a tendency is to stop gathering new information or to use our judgments to make decisions.  While it is human nature to make assessments of situations, one of the core values of our department is creating a welcoming place where community members can receive needed services.  Our employees are committed to providing support and dedicated to reducing the stigma of being a client of a social services agency. 

We believe that the role of social services is to assist people in meeting their needs so that they can focus on the other aspects of life.  Our offices provide a place that is not judgmental and which invite those in need to take part in the services we provide. 

One place where this non-judgmental approach can be seen is in our Adult Services Division.  I have chosen to focus on that division's adult protective and guardianship services in this column since June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  Adult Services is a core part of the work we do. And we support our clients by focusing on creating an environment rooted in the dignity of the person and the respect of the situation that led the person to the agency.

This is not to say that there may not be need for us act in accord with laws that guide our work. But our main focus is to find out if there is a problem and then determine if there is a way we can alleviate the problem and help the family.

In Adult Services the vast amount of the reports and requests for assistance are related to self-neglect. These clients are generally much older women who are having difficulty caring for themselves.   Rather than telling the person that she can't take care of herself anymore and someone needs to save her, we develop a person-centered plan.  This enables the client to engage in the development of the plan with the social worker.   If the person wants to remain in their own home, they have the right to do that if they have the mental capacity to make that decision. And we need to, and do, respect that choice.

Similarly, families are often not trying to purposely neglect or abuse a family member.  Often it's an elderly spouse taking care of his or her elderly spouse.  We know that they are doing the best that they can and sometimes just need some assistance to make things work for both of them.

As with adult protective cases, when we are looking at guardianship issues; in guardianship there are times where an adult is no longer able to make their own decisions and there may not be available family to help.  In these situations we remain committed to treating guardianship as we do any other service we offer, without judgment.   Even if the client has declined to the point where they can't make decisions any more, we still engage with a person-centered plan.

I am proud of the staff and services at the Durham County Social Services and know that our people will continue to provide support for our community without judgment and with a spirit of welcome.

Social Services does now will continue to improve our service delivery so that people truly understand that we work in partnership with the client, family and community partners offer a service continuum that exists solely to support those who may need our support.

Michael A, Becketts is the director of the Durham County Department of Social Services.